The Harvest – Why Produce Was the Least Important Thing I Got from the Farm

I thought I was depressed about the vegetables. Turns out it was something else entirely, and the solution was simple.

It starts with showing up.

Goodnight, Earth

Though I haven’t written much about it this season, long-time readers and Twitter followers may remember that I’ve been working one morning a week as a farm hand at my local community farm. I assist with the CSA harvest, and occasionally plant and weed, all in exchange for a weekly bounty of farm-fresh organic produce.

It’s such a bright spot in my week, but it’s over now, and I’ll admit: I’m a little depressed.

Of course, it’s November—it’s natural that the season should be over. The farmers have spread a sheet of winter rye and hairy vetch across the fields, and soon enough, a blanket of snow will fall and put the earth to bed. But for reasons I’ve only just become aware of, I’m having a tough time letting go.

It wasn’t like this last year—I still loved every morning I spent in the fields, and celebrated every vegetable that ended up in my kitchen, but. . .

It was also stressful. My day at the farm was Wednesday, and after four hours in the dirt and sun, I headed to an eight hour shift at the pool. The day started at 7am and didn’t end until 11pm; I spent the whole morning worrying about how tired I’d be the rest of the day, and by the end of October I was ready to be done.

But this year, things were different. I moved my farm day to Friday (when I don’t work the real job), and found the experience drastically different. Where before I had to rush home, unpack the vegetables, shower, and get ready for work, now I was free to linger.

On more than one occasion, when the harvest was running long, I found myself in the fields past my four-hour obligation. It didn’t matter—I had nowhere to be, and was free to live in the moment.

And what a moment! There may be no greater panacea than spending a sunny September morning in a bed of fragrant arugula.

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Revenge is better with a side of bacon. . . 

But now the winter is nearly upon us. It’s time to say goodnight to the earth until the oh-so-distant spring, and though I love the snow. . .

Like I said, I’m sad. When I finally figured out why, I was more than a little surprised.

I Thought it was the Vegetables

There’s really nothing in the world like a just-picked sun-ripened cherry tomato. Broccolini fresh out of the field is sweet like candy, and bears little resemblance to the often woody variety found in so many grocery stores. And chard? Nothing compares to the joyous, nutty flavor of fresh, gently sautéed leaves folded into an omelette with swiss cheese.

So when the season ended this year, I looked at my slowly dwindling supply of winter squash—the final remnants of the CSA—and sighed. Sure, I still have the heirloom tomato salsa I canned in August. The fresh pasta sauce I cooked down is waiting, frozen in the freezer. But they’ll be gone soon enough.

When I got an email from one of the farmers last week saying I was welcome to any of the leftover sugar pumpkins, I dropped everything and high-tailed it over to the farm. I came back home with eight. Eight pumpkins! So far I’ve managed to roast and purée three. Brian and I are going to be eating pumpkin until we’re yellow!

I thought maybe having that little bit of extra produce would help stave off this malaise.

And then I thought—just because my farm stopped producing, I don’t have to stop eating awesome local produce. We use Amazon’s grocery delivery service (hey, I’m a writer, going to the store is super inconvenient), so I ordered some awesome-looking Whole Foods sanctioned leaf lettuce, scallions, and herbs.

The produce arrived, and it looked beautiful (though not as beautiful as what comes out of my farm), but I still felt—empty.

As a last-ditch effort, I signed us up for a service that delivers a box of local organic produce on a weekly basis. This service runs year-round, and our first box will arrive on Wednesday. I’m excited to see what we get, and I think this will be a wonderful, healthy substitute for the farm in the winter months, but. . .

I’ve already figured out it isn’t going to work. I’m going to miss my farm’s vegetables, but it turns out that isn’t really the problem.

Not at all.

Experiencing the Flavor

My first clue that something else was at work here arrived on Friday morning. Rather than climbing out of bed at 6:30 (as was my custom) I lingered until nearly 9:15. When I finally managed to stumble into the kitchen for coffee I felt this horrible emptiness.

For the past twenty weeks, my Friday mornings have been a period of focus, of work, of being intensely present.

See, harvesting on a farm is a multi-sensory experience. You feel the sun and the breeze, see the sky and the vibrant colors of the vegetables, smell them as they are pulled from the ground and cut from the stalk, and yes, even taste them as you go. And behind all of it, a chorus of birds and insects keeps you company.

It takes a great deal of effort not to get lost in the single moments. It takes more work to stress about the problems of real life than it does to simply succumb to the joy of the harvesting.

I didn’t get that my first year, when I was so concerned with the rest of my day—with what came after. But this year?

I was content to taste the flavor of the experience—to be in it one-hundred-percent.

As I felt the cold floor tiles of the kitchen beneath my feet, I had a hypothesis. The farm had one last planting coming up on Sunday and needed volunteers—2500 cloves of garlic needed to go in the ground for next year’s harvest.

I called Brian and told him we needed to go. If my hypothesis was right, the thing I was really missing about the farm was. . .

Living in the Moment

Sunday came around and we drove to the farm. I had to be at work in a couple hours, so we couldn’t stay long, but if my idea was correct, the duration wasn’t going to matter as much as the quality of the time spent.

We started in the farm stand cracking garlic, which is the process of breaking these enormous heads into cloves to plant. Each crack brought a tactile satisfaction, and the faint aroma of farm fresh garlic. We could feel the cloves and heads in our hands, and enjoy the pleasant plop as they dropped into large buckets to take into the fields.

When the cracking was done, we paired up—Brian with a bucket of garlic, and myself with a spade. I dug the holes, smelling the earth and fighting the rocks of the stony New England soil. Brian dropped the cloves and covered them, sealing them in until their triumphant vernal emergence.

All around us the birds sang. The breeze touched our cheeks and the sun warmed our shoulders. And I was happy! We were doing something we loved, in a place that has become important to us, sure. But more than all of that, I was happy because I was focused. I was present.

Think about your day to day life. How often do you eat in front of the television? How often do you check Facebook while you’re watching a movie? Do you use the phone in the car? We’re always multitasking—always getting ready for the next thing.

We’re so concerned about what’s next, it’s easy to forget about right now.

When is the last time you did one thing, and one thing, only; the last time you really stopped to appreciate a moment, an action, an experience, undistracted?

If you don’t have an immediate answer—if it’s been awhile, I think you should give it a try.

A Lesson Learned and Relearned

It seems like this is a lesson I need to keep learning over and over again. I believe so strongly in what I call The Beauty in the Mundane. I try to make time for my eternity in seventeen minutes. I want to be present in every moment, but life has a sneaky way of disrupting that ambition.

And now the farm is done. I’m hoping in the late winter I’ll have time to do some greenhouse work, and sure, before I know it the summer will be here again and I’ll return to those fragrant fields.  But in the meantime?

I need to find the focus elsewhere. I need to redouble my efforts. Can I sip a cup of coffee and appreciate its flavor without the glare of an iPhone screen in front of me? Can I eat an omelette, appreciating its texture without the latest news from NPR coming through the speakers?

Can I find one moment every day to be completely and totally present, without distractions or worries about what comes next?

I think I can. At least I can try. If I manage it, the most delicious thing I brought home from the farm this year won’t be a vegetable at all.

Share your thoughts! Do you make an effort to be present in the moment? What is your number one distraction? Do you have something (like the farm) that helps you to push everything else out of your mind? For extra credit, what should I do with the five pumpkins I have left to roast and purée? Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks as always for reading,

Gregory

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

William Quinn - November 6, 2017

Ah but working with nature’s garden is simply so wonderful, and really is an invitation to mindfulness. Do you have your own pots, planters or even garden space you work as well?

All winter long, the gardener has something to do … and an endless invitation to spend time thinking about nothing but the joy of nature’s cyclical promise

Reply
    Gregory Josephs - November 6, 2017

    Beautifully phrased, William, and absolutely accurate. Yes in fact, I have a small garden of my own, and yes, in fact, it could use a little tending. I think maybe I’ll spend a little time out there this week trying to clean things up.

    In particular, I have a rosemary I’m determined to over-winter.

    Thanks for the lovely words.

    Reply
Jennifer - November 6, 2017

I totally get this because I felt a little sad last Saturday because it’s now too cold to go to Farmers Market. It’s my routine and I’m going to miss it. This reminded me of my Dad because he was such a bear in the wintertime when he couldn’t get his hands in the dirt. I am guilty of eating in front of the tv since I live alone although it’s not often.
As to the pumpkins…pumpkin pie obviously!!

Reply
    Gregory Josephs - November 6, 2017

    Your father sounds like my kind of guy!

    It’s always tough when the farmers markets end, but the good news is there are great opportunities to work with winter vegetables just around the corner.

    Also, before you know it there’ll be fresh asparagus telling us summer is coming around again.

    And as to the pumpkins. . . I’ve made two pies already, and there are plenty more to come! Thanks as always for stopping by!

    Reply
updownflight - November 6, 2017

For some reason I didn’t “get” mindfulness for a long time, and then suddenly I realized how sweet it and healthful it really is. I’ve so often been so hyperfocused in life or lost in my mind. When I finally became able to be fully in the moment and focus elsewhere I learned exactly what you describe. Ahhhhh! That smell and taste of arugula, as you wrote.

My pet bird has helped me focus elsewhere other than my laptop. He’s constantly moving. My old pet, though I loved him dearly, was old and mostly blind so he sat in the same spot most of the day. My new parrot is like a baby with the baby joy of life. He also gets in trouble a lot. That amuses me.

Hmm? Pumpkins. I’ve never really cooked anything using fresh pumpkins. I’ve only ever done jack o’ lanterns or used canned pumpkin. Bad me! But my sister makes delicious homemade pumpkin pies from the fresh fruit. Thanksgiving is coming so they are always appreciated.

Reply
    Gregory Josephs - November 6, 2017

    I totally understand. I “get” mindfulness, and then I forget again. Over and over. . .

    I think I missed that you got a new bird. I’m so happy for you! It sounds like a handful, but a joyous one.

    And yeah, there’ll definitely be at least one pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. Probably Christmas also, and New Years, and Easter. . .

    Reply
Donna Holland - November 6, 2017

lol I could write a book with all your questions. I’m going for the extra credit. First of all I loved every word of this. I almost cried, because I love gardening and being present in a garden as you do. It’s hard to explain the satisfaction it gives. I volunteered for 4 years in the Oregon Garden. Loved it. miss it. On a personal note, my distractions are always outdoorsy things. My house is almost all windows, so it helps bring natural light wherever I am. One of my volunteer projects now is tending to the gardens at our National Cemetery in Phoenix. I thought it would be a respite and a place to bring my energy and knowledge. It is, but I find myself also talking with people who really need someone to listen to them. I am grateful I am there, so it is twofold.

I think it was a great idea for you to switch to Fridays so you really could bask in all of the fun and the yumminess. As I was reading this I was wondering… have you ever looked into the Master Gardener program in your state. The classes are usually in the winter months since you can’t garden. Just a thought. I loved the information I got and it was even cool to learn entomology. Now for the extra credit. I don’t know what you should do with the pumpkins, but I do look forward to hearing about it. oooo…wait……pumpkin spice whoopie pies! Hope your book sales are going well.
Donna

Reply
    Gregory Josephs - November 7, 2017

    Hi Donna,

    I need to make time for my own garden, small though it is. We live in one of those classic Boston three-family houses, and the back yard was converted to a parking lot long before we got here. As a result I have a tiny patch in the front of the house, and strip in the side yard that gets funny light. Still, I make the best of it, but should probably get a little weeding done before it really frosts.

    I’ve got a rosemary I am determined to overwinter in the ground. . .

    I think it’s great that your volunteering at the National Cemetery, and providing a shoulder for those who need it. I suspect it’s difficult to be anything other than present in those moments.

    I’ll definitely look into the Master Gardener thing. Even if I can’t manage it, I’m sure I’ll find a way to keep myself busy and mindful in these colder months.

    Lastly, I have to admit I laughed out loud for quite a while at the idea of pumpkin spice whoopie pies. I already made two regular pies and a pumpkin chili, but whoopie pies never crossed my mind. I’m going to do it, and then I can write a follow-up. . .

    Thanks as always for reading.

    Greg

    Reply
Marcus Lopes - November 7, 2017

While I do try to be present in the moment, some days it’s a challenge. It’s too easy for me to get caught up in my thoughts and “worry” about all the things I want to do and figure out how to do them with the time that I have. That’s why I run – some days through the pain, some days when I don’t feel like it, some days when it feels too hard – because it’s really the one point in the day when I can push everything else from my mind.

I’m not sure if I could name just one distraction. It really depends on the day. It could be the TV, social media or just a “fear” of sitting down to write because of worrying that what I write won’t be good enough. That’s when I have to really focus, be present and block out everything around me. Not always an easy task. But I’ve learned to take it one day at a time. Life is a journey, and I do the best I can to create the life I imagine without being (hopefully) too hard on myself.

As for that pumpkin… I’ve never been a fan of anything pumpkin, but I’m sure you’ll whip up something delicious.

Enjoy the day!
Marcus

Reply
    Gregory Josephs - November 7, 2017

    Hi Marcus,

    I absolutely agree with you about running, at least half the time. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times I hit the trail and suddenly realized how far I’d gone already because I was thinking about something else. But then there are other times when I’m able to be completely present, feeling the wind and the pavement, and my breath.

    The war against distractions is just a string of never-ending battles, but luckily it’s a war that doesn’t need to be won. The distractions are good sometimes too. They help round us and bring us back down to earth, right?

    Re: not liking anything pumpkin. . . If you’re feeling adventurous, you should try Alton Brown’s fresh pumpkin pie recipe. It might just change your mind.

    Reply
Aimer Boyz - November 7, 2017

Great post, Gregory.
Mindfulness, a break from worrying about everything. For me, that’s reading. Don’t even try to talk to me while I’m in a good book, because I won’t hear you 🙂
In the car a few days ago, the radio announcer mentioned a report that said spending a few minutes with nature everyday made people happier. Sounds like you were lucky enough to have hours not minutes…I can totally see how you’re going to miss that 🙂

Reply
    Gregory Josephs - November 8, 2017

    Perhaps I can take a cue from you, and the solution to my problem is simply to put on a snow suit and read in my soon-to-be frozen garden! 😉 Nature and books surely equals a win-win!

    Seriously though, reading is definitely one of those things where it’s easy to be totally present. I haven’t been making enough time for it lately, so maybe I’ll swap my farm mornings for internet-free, coffee-laced novel time.

    Reply
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